House on Haunted Hill
"House on Haunted Hill" (1959) begins with a procession of funeral cars traveling a dark road to a house known as the site of multiple homicides. A millionaire and his wife have rented the creepy mansion for a theme party with a big prize: any guest who lasts the night gets $10,000. What the guests don't know is that their host, Frederick Loren, suspects his "amusing” wife, Annabelle, of attempted murder. Annabelle has her own reasons for concern: she's the fourth Mrs. Loren, and her predecessors died or disappeared mysteriously.
Among the guests is young Nora Manning, who begins to see ghosts as she tours the mansion with the other guests. Her response to the apparitions is to scream, which results in other characters supposing she's merely "hysterical.” Hysteria, once considered a legitimate medical diagnosis, is characterized by an excessive and uncontrolled emotional reaction. For many decades it was a horror film staple to depict female characters as shrieking then fainting or fleeing from situations in which male characters coolly take action. While "House on Haunted Hill” makes heavy use of this trope, it also invites us to ask whether it might not be entirely rational to do nothing but scream when trapped in deadly circumstances you don't understand and can't control?
Don StrassbergPsychology professor Don Strassberg of the University of Utah discusses hysteria and the film "House On Haunted Hill.”
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